Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Racing ahead: SIU track and field prepares to open season in Saluki Fast Start meet

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The SIU track and field teams will open their season in the Saluki Fast Start meet on Dec. 2. A lot of work has had to be done to get to be ready to get off to a fast start though.

While the Salukis regularly hosted a meet at the beginning of December pre-COVID, there hasn’t been one with other teams since COVID happened.

Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Richard Jones is happy to have an “early bird” meet once again.

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“It’s good to just have a small group of teams, it’s good to be able to transition out of the intersquad meet back to a meet where we can have our fans and the student population come forward,” Jones said.

The meet also functions as something of a reward for the athletes for working as hard as they did during the fall.

Jones said, “We’ve been working ever since the day after Labor Day, and this is our first real test, so it’s good to have that in place.”

It will also be the first test for over 20 new athletes who are entering their first season as Salukis.

“The staff wound up recruiting a lot of good athletes to come in and fill in the gaps from some of our graduating seniors, and just really put their mark on the caliber of athletes they want to coach,” Jones said. “I’m excited to see what this looks like.”

It isn’t just newcomers Jones is excited about; there are several standout athletes returning from last year, including sophomore sprinter Xavier Preston and senior sprinter Iaunia Pointer.

Jones thinks that Pointer, an All-MVC performer, multiple time MVC Track Athlete of the Week and regular podium finisher, is especially focused entering this season.

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Jones said, “You just get that senior focus. This is the last hurrah, and she’s ready to really give it her all, so she’s been focused on that.

Pointer agrees, and is working to improve on even the smallest things.

“I’m more focused on… working on some of my disadvantages, like when it comes to blocks or form or anything like that, and just improving marks,” Pointer said.

Senior distance runner Ethan Senti is also looking forward to getting his senior track season started.

“We have a couple of seniors who might be graduating, and I’m one of them. It’s kind of our last chance with this group to make that push,” Senti said.

Senti had an especially decorated cross country season. He was named Prairie Farms Athlete of the Week by SIU, was recognized for the second straight year as the MVC Cross Country Scholar-Athlete of the Year, won the Elite 17 award (given to Missouri Valley athletes who have the highest GPA competing at finals for their respective sports) and won the 8k race at the MVC Championships.

Senti and the distance runners are ready to do their part in taking SIU back to the top of the conference.

“We haven’t been at the top of the conference the last couple of years, and so we really just want to finish as high as this year, so we’re going to do everything we can as the distance team to make that happen,” Senti said.

Pointer specifically mentioned doing well at the Penn Relays as a goal for the team this year.

“Last year for the college section, we won it and we won The Big Wheel, making that a tradition for ourselves,” Pointer said.

Pointer didn’t forget about the MVC portion of the schedule, either.

“We want to rank, we want a championship. I feel like we deserve that, and we’re working hard to accomplish that,” Pointer said.

While Jones certainly carries high expectations for the athletes in house, he does acknowledge that while SIU can still be a threat in the Valley, they may be a year away from winning the conference and being a force.

“I like to see the development of these young men and women into not just being regular college student-athletes, but great college student-athletes,” Jones said. “I still think there’s another year or two of development, and then once we really get that going, I think we become a little bit more unstoppable.”

Part of this development is a change in mindset that Jones has seen among the team, saying they’re “just approaching practice with a better attitude and with more intent to be good.”

“That mindset, that behavior is contagious. It’s been contagious with the sprinters and the throwers and the jumpers as well. We’re all kind of encouraging each other as we’re working out,” Jones said.

Pointer thinks that this attitude is a strong suit of the team and that it pushes athletes.

“When you have a team that comes just as hard behind you as you come for yourself, it really does help,” Pointer said.

According to Pointer, a big part of a team having your back is the bonds forged with teammates.

“The main thing is team bonding or getting to know them personally so that it’s better for us, on the track as well as outside the track,” Pointer said.

Tight relationships among the team is another factor that Pointer feels is important, especially when it comes to setting records.

“So far, there’s been good chemistry. We’re all striving for one thing… creating new traditions for ourselves, breaking records and stuff like that. I’m really excited to see what this year brings for us,” Pointer said.

Creating traditions and breaking records is often a product of dedication from athletes, something Jones wants people to take note of.

“We want to make sure that these young men and women are being recognized for their hard work and dedication as student athletes here at SIU. This program continues to be one of the top level programs around and in the school… we want to continue to do our part to be just as successful as the other programs,” Jones said.

Sports reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, be sure to follow The Daily Egyptian on Facebook and on Twitter @dailyegyptian.

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